Pakistani scholars question PM Khan’s plans to reform madrassas

In this file photo, Islamic religious students take mid-term exams at Jamia Binoria, a seminary in Karachi, on Jan. 26, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 13 October 2018

Pakistani scholars question PM Khan’s plans to reform madrassas

  • Previous governments unsuccessful in mainstreaming seminaries despite detailed plans
  • Move to ensure religious schools are on par with those providing modern education

KARACHI: Upset over the previous governments’ lackadaisical attitude, Pakistan’s religious scholars said that while Prime Minister Imran Khan shows promise in making religious schools a part of the mainstream educational framework, it’s unlikely his plans will be brought to fruition.
Khan has repeatedly called for reforms in the education system to bring the seminaries, also known as madrassas, in line with the modern education system. 
Last week, during a meeting with the delegation of the Ittehad-e-Tanzeemat-e-Madaris-e-Deeniya Pakistan, an alliance of religious schools in the country, Khan had said that uniformity in the basic educational system was imperative to work toward nation building. The delegation was headed by Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman and comprised heads of all madrassa boards, while the premier was accompanied by federal ministers of education, religious affairs and a coterie of other officials. 
Yaseen Zafar, head of the Wafaqul Madaris Al Salfia — the board of religious seminaries representing the Salafi school of thought — told Arab News that Khan’s government and past leaders, including former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto “were also sincere in their efforts to mainstream the seminaries,” adding that the madrassas never opposed the plans either.
“It’s the bureaucracy, which hampers the process by raising objections to the key demand of registration of the board,” Zafar said, adding that he feared Khan’s plans would meet a similar fate. 
Aamir Tauseen, former chairman of the Pakistan Madrassa Education Board, agrees that when it comes to meeting the demands of clerics, specifically granting them the status of official education boards, the bureaucracy has always raised various objections, treating religious schools as unequal or as a hotbed for terrorism. “Since they are educated through the modern system, they have a specific mentality and consider the religious schools backward,” he said.
Taking cognizance of the issues discussed, Khan said: “It was unjust to ignore the contributions of madaris (seminaries) and associate them with terrorism.”
Maulana Hanif Jalandhari, chief of Wafaqul Madaris Al-Arabia Pakistan (the board of Arabic religious seminaries of Pakistan), said that in the meeting with the prime minister, it was decided that all measures agreed upon with the previous governments would be implemented.
He added that Khan had formed a committee comprising ministers of education and religious affairs which, “after consultation with the madrassa leadership would draft the recommendations”.
Detailing the limitations of including the seminaries in the mainstream educational framework, Jalandhari said: “To us, the madaris are already mainstreamed as they’re imparting Islamic education in a country, which was carved out of (pre-partition) India for implementation of Islamic teachings. For the government, however, the mainstreaming is that graduates of madrassas should be able to work in other fields of life. For this, the madrassas will have to start teaching English language, science, mathematics and social studies. In return, the government will have to recognize our degrees.” 
One solution to the problem could be if “the basic education in schools and madrassas is the same till grade 10,” he said, adding that: “The religious seminaries should teach modern subjects whereas modern schools should incorporate religious subject in their syllabus.”
Tauseen said the timeline of efforts for mainstreaming madrassas dates backs to the 1970s when an educational commission headed by Air Marshal Noor Khan recommended introducing modern subjects in religious seminaries.
In 1974, after the recommendations failed to see the light of day, all five boards were accredited by the University Grant Commission of Pakistan, which accepted the highest madrasa degree of “Shahadat Aalia” as equal to a Master of Arts (MA), Tauseen said.
“Almost every government formed a commission in this regard but in vain. In 1999, Mahmood Ahmed Ghazi recommended the establishment of a Pakistan Madrassa Education Board, which was setup in 2001. This board was aimed at mainstreaming the madrassas but all five boards rejected the proposal,” he said. 
Tauseen, who took charge of the board in August 2014, said that it remained dysfunctional for 11 years primarily due to the “adverse attitude of the Religious Affairs Ministry”.
Inclusion of the madrassas in the mainstream became a part of the National Action Plan, which was formulated in the aftermath of the December 2014 attack on the Peshawar Army Public School. “Several meetings of different committees, education ministry, National Anti-Terrorism Authority and Interior Ministry were held and I, being head of the Pakistan Madrasa Board, was part of all of them. Several recommendations were prepared; however, with a change of government none were implemented,” he said.
Citing a lack of coordination and understanding as the main reasons for the delay in the implementation of plans, Tauseen suggested that madrassas should first have the complete data on hand, which should be shared with the government, as the first step toward mainstreaming. This could be followed up with the introduction of a uniform syllabus in the second phase.
There are three types of seminaries: Maktabs (schools for day scholars), madrassas (seminaries with boarding and lodging) and darul uloom (seminaries for higher studies). Together, they are responsible for more than 37,000 institutions, with nearly 4 million students acquiring education from them.
Jalandhari said that around 30,000 madrassas are registered with the five boards representing various schools of thought in Islam. Abdul Kabir Qazi, home secretary of the Sindh province, said there are a total of 10,033 madrassas in Sindh out of which 7,724 are operational while 2,309 were shut down after the geo-tagging exercise. “We have registered all the seminaries in Sindh province,” Qazi told Arab News. “All the madrassas in the province have been geo-tagged,” he added.
Wakeel Ahmed Khan, former secretary of religious affairs, refutes the allegations and instead blames the ‘inconsistency of policies’ of the succeeding governments for hampering the development of the madrassas.
“For mainstreaming madrassas, modern disciplines should be taught and religious education should be an additional focus,” the former secretary told Arab News. 
Drawing a comparison with the religious seminaries in the UK, he said: “They are accredited with the UK education boards on their terms and simultaneously to their branches in Pakistan… they have accepted this mainstreaming happily.”


Johnson the Brexit ‘Hulk’ finally meets EU’s Juncker

Updated 16 September 2019

Johnson the Brexit ‘Hulk’ finally meets EU’s Juncker

  • Downing Street has confidently billed the Luxembourg visit as part of efforts to negotiate an orderly divorce from the union

LUXEMBOURG: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker for talks Monday insisting a Brexit deal is possible, despite deep skepticism from European capitals with just six weeks to go before departure day.
After a weekend in which he compared himself to comic book super-smasher Hulk, the British leader will enjoy a genteel working lunch of snails and salmon in Luxembourg with the EU Commission president.
Downing Street has confidently billed the Luxembourg visit as part of efforts to negotiate an orderly divorce from the union before an October 17 EU summit.
A UK spokesman said Johnson would tell Juncker that “progress has been made, given that before the summer recess many said reopening talks would not be possible.
“The UK needs to enact the referendum result and avoid another delay; the UK wants to deliver Brexit and move on to other priorities, and EU member states’ leaders want to renegotiate an orderly Brexit.”
But Brussels has played down talk of a breakthrough, insisting Johnson has yet to suggest any “legally operable” proposal to revise a previous withdrawal accord.
As he shook hands with Johnson, Juncker declared himself “cautiously optimistic” and insisted that “Europe never loses patience” despite the tortuous Brexit saga dragging on over three years.
Finland’s European affairs minister, Tytti Tuppurainen, who was chairing an EU ministerial meeting in Brussels, gave a more downbeat assessment, repeating the bloc’s long-standing complaint that London has simply not come up with detailed ideas for replacing the so-called “Irish backstop” section of the divorce deal.
“The European Union is always ready to negotiate when a proper proposal from the UK side is presented,” Tuppurainen said.
“So far I haven’t seen any proposal that would compensate the backstop.”
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who joined the leaders for their talks in Juncker’s native Grand Duchy, said last week he has “no reason to be optimistic.”
The European Parliament will this week vote on a resolution rejecting Johnson’s demand that the backstop clause be stripped from the deal.
Johnson insists this measure, which temporarily keeps the UK in the EU customs union, has to go if he is to bring the agreement back to the House of Commons.
But the accord will also have to win the support of the other 27 EU leaders and the European Parliament if Britain is not to crash out with no deal on October 31 — a scenario that businesses warn would bring economic chaos.
Johnson, in turn, boasts that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask his European counterparts to postpone Brexit for a third time.
“Be in no doubt that if we cannot get a deal — the right deal for both sides — then the UK will come out anyway,” Johnson said, writing in the Daily Telegraph on Monday.
A UK spokesman said that Britain would refuse an extension even if one were offered.
It is difficult, then, to see what might come from the lunch. There is no plan for a joint statement, but Barnier will meet Britain’s Brexit minister Stephen Barclay for separate discussions.
Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Barclay indicated that any post-Brexit transition period could be extended past 2020 in order to resolve issues with the border.
Johnson, meanwhile, compared himself to Marvel comics hero Hulk, the rampaging mutant alter-ego of a mild-mannered nuclear scientist.
“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets and he always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be,” Johnson told the Mail on Sunday.
Johnson’s strategy faces resistance at home, where rebel and opposition MPs have passed a law aimed at forcing him to seek a Brexit delay.
Britain’s Supreme Court will rule this week on a bid to overturn Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament and limit time to debate the crisis.
Barnier will address the European Parliament session in Strasbourg on Wednesday as MEPs vote to reaffirm and reinforce the EU Brexit stance — and insist that the backstop must stay.
After his lunch with Juncker, Johnson is due to meet Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel. The pair will hold a joint news conference.